'All 10 of us children rushed under the tree to see what Santa brought'
You can't miss Mary Tange, 88, when you enter the Pleasanton Senior Center. She volunteers as a greeter, sitting at a desk facing the front entrance to cheerfully welcome everyone and guide them to their destination.
Although Mary lives very much in the present in a spacious home in Pleasanton, where she moved 12 years ago to be near family, her face lights up as she remembers her girlhood on a farm outside Ashtabula, Ohio.
"It's 60 miles outside Cleveland, on Lake Erie," she explained. "I had nine siblings. There were six brothers in a row, then me, then three sisters in a row."
Their last name was Naebauer. Her father was from a wealthy German family and had been sent to America in the early 1900s to escape the war in Europe.
"My father was very strict," she recalled.
Her mother was born in Massachusetts and was a midwife.
"I asked my mother why she kept having children and she said because she wanted girls," Mary said with a laugh.
Born in 1924, she clearly remembers her family producing all their own food during the Depression, growing what they needed and raising cows and hogs in addition to the chickens.
"We traded for the things we needed," she said. "We had our own smokehouse, for the hog, and everyone wanted fresh eggs."
The children had a stand by the road to sell their apples although they mainly wanted to make sure they didn't go to waste.
"First we put up a sign that said 'Free' and no one wanted any. Then we put up a sign that said '1 cent' and people bought them," she said.
Mary recalls the abundance of flour sacks in their home, which her mother used to make their bloomers and other clothes. They each had one pair of shoes for school "and our Sunday shoes."
"My mother baked. She was Hungarian and Polish," Mary said. "We lived down a hill and we would smell my mother's baking and run down that hill."
Her father worked at a place that made pitchforks, hoes and other implements, and two of her brothers were employed by the WPA.
Mary relishes her memories of life on the farm and the holidays. They would decorate their tree on Christmas Eve.
"Most of the things on the tree were handmade," she said. "We had a forest behind us where we cut the tree down."
They walked a mile to midnight Mass since they didn't have a car, and she recalls with a laugh how they would run home afterward.
"When we got home, presents would be under the tree. We all got only one thing. The girls got a doll and the boys got sleds. My father made the sleds."
Her father also created a clever sled for them to use on the grassy hill behind their house during the summertime.
"We couldn't touch the presents until we were all in the house. Then we all dove under the tree to find our name," Mary recalled. "I tore the paper off to find my doll."
When it snowed, her father would dig them out of the house, she said. And the kids walked through the snow to the bus stop.
"I don't miss that at all," she said. "But I would run and play in the snow -- I was a tomboy."
When she was in third grade her father lost his job, they either lost or had to sell their farm, and her family moved into "the city," Ashtabula.
"It was a terrible experience," Mary remembered, shaking her head. "It took me one year to eat an egg; I was used to fresh eggs from our own chickens."
The house was smaller, too, with four little bedrooms upstairs. Since all the children were still living at home, they removed walls on the second floor to make two large rooms, one for the boys and one for the girls.
In high school it wasn't easy having six older brothers.
"There were several boys I liked but my brothers said, 'Don't touch my sister,'" she recalled. "But I did go out, in a group."
After high school she went to business college and moved to Cleveland with a friend.
"The Salvation Army had a home away from home," she said. "It was $10 a month, with breakfast and dinner."
She shared a room with another young woman named Mary and it became confusing because they were both blond and had the same name.
"They started calling me Nae," she said, a name that stuck.
She met her husband Vince when he was attending podiatry school; they came to California on their honeymoon to visit his mother and sister.
"His mother talked him into signing up at the school of podiatry in San Francisco. When we got home he was notified he was accepted. We packed up the car and came back," she said.
"I was homesick for a year. Then I went back to visit and I couldn't take the soot and the cold. When you hung out the clothes they'd be stiff as boards."
She and Vince lived in San Bruno for 50 years and raised their two sons, who now live in Petaluma and Pleasanton. Her four grandchildren are 27, 25, 23 and 21.
"Three boys and one girl," she said.
She's the only survivor of the 10 siblings; two of her brothers died in World War II.
Ten years ago the Naebauers had a reunion and more than 100 showed up, she said.
Mary Naebauer, aka Nae Tange, is a long way from the farm, but she's a smiling presence at the Senior Center, where she also ran the poker games for many years. Childhood memories are wonderful but she's enjoying being in the here and now.